(CN) – Arkansas teachers can have sex with students who are age 18 and older, the state Supreme Court ruled, calling a ban on such conduct unconstitutional.
In a 4-3 decision Thursday, the court said adult students, 18 and older, have a constitutional right to consensual sex. The age of consent in Arkansas is 16.
The court reached this conclusion as it dismissed the sexual assault charges against David Paschal, 38, of Elkins, Ark., a teacher at Elkins High school. Paschal was sentenced to 30 years in state prison after admitting to a months-long, consensual sexual relationship with an 18-year-old student.
The majority decision criticized the law for infringing on Paschal’s “fundamental right to privacy,” saying the law “criminalizes sexual conduct between adults.”
While Arkansas has an interest in protecting adult students from the sexual advances of teachers, the law is not “the least restrictive method available” to fulfill this interest.
“Regardless of how we feel about Paschal’s conduct, which could correctly referred to as reprehensible, we cannot abandon our duty to uphold the rule of law when a case presents distasteful facts,” according to the majority opinion authored by Chief Justice Jim Hannhan. “Paschal’s convictions for sexual assault in the second degree are reversed and dismissed.”
The dissent criticized the majority for treating both members of the sexual relationship as equals, as opposed to “to a student-teacher relationship in high school where the teacher is without question the authority figure.”
“In doing so, the majority skews and minimizes the role of a teacher and views a sexual affair between a high school student and teacher as merely one between consenting adults,” Justice Robert Brown wrote for the dissenting justices. “That view distorts the facts of this case and discards the valid objective of the General Assembly to criminalize this conduct.”
The majority’s analysis says that the statute fails to explicitly criminalize a teacher’s use of his position of “trust or authority” over an adult student to procure sex.
“That of course is preposterous,” Brown wrote. “Any teacher knows that he or she occupies a position of trust or authority in the school … for the majority to say that such authority vanishes when a student turns eighteen ignores the realities of the student-teacher relationship.”
Moore said his colleagues in the majority have removed any barricade against high school teachers having sex with their students when they turn 18.
“This will cause significant disruption in our high schools and have a deleterious impact on education in general and the teacher-student dynamic in particular,” Brown wrote. “That is completely contrary to the state’s duty, which is to protect its students in the public school setting against sexual advances and exploitation by teachers. That duty has been completely jeopardized and undermined by today’s decision.”